Summer's here! Why not try a yummy 'French-style' dinner menu with your kids?

Thanks to all of the readers who have written in with enthusiastic comments on the French Kids School Lunch Project, which is now wrapped up for the year. Many people requested recipes, so I thought I’d kick off this summer’s blog posts with a yummy French kids’ dinner menu, based on some favourite family recipes.

As is usual with French meals, the meal follows a four-course pattern:

  1. Vegetable starter
  2. Protein-rich main dish, with vegetable side
  3. Dairy (Your choice, but usually yogurt or cheese)
  4. Dessert (usually fresh fruit, but I’ve included a recipe for a sweet treat below!)
Always on the table: water (no milk, juice, or pop); and plain, crusty, fresh baguette (not too many pieces! as you don’t want the kids to fill up on bread) 

Based on these four courses, here is the yummy French-Style Menu to try with your kids (note: each recipe is listed on a separate page, but I have provided a consolidated shopping list at the bottom of this post):

  1. Starter: Beet Salad (bonus: you can make beet popsicles afterwards)
  2. Main: Tomates Farcies (stuffed tomatoes) and Cauliflower Casserole
  3. Plain yogurt with a spoonful of honey
  4. Cherry Clafoutis (Sweet Cherry Souffle)

Note: Why do the French serve their meals in multiple courses? For several reasons:

  • serving vegetables first means that kids are more likely to eat them (particularly if they haven’t snacked right before mealtime);
  • serving smaller portions, in multiple courses, makes the meal last longer–which is an important strategy for self-regulating food consumption. Research shows that people tend to eat less if they eat more slowly, because the ‘satiety’ (fullness) signals take about 20 minutes to be transmitted from your stomach to your brain;
  • multiple courses permit a diverse meal which is nutritionally complete (no filling up on pasta!)
  • last, but not least, the French enjoy sitting at the table and eating. It’s a fun time for parents and kids alike.

Two more tips!

First, pre-meal preparation is important! The French usually set the table with a tablecloth, and make sure to have napkins on the table. Seems a little fussy, but it actually works wonders with children, as it makes the table seem more festive (and thus fun). Also, kids are less likely to eat messily, for fear of making a mess on the tablecloth (at least, that’s the theory!). So pull out any table decorations you might have, and gussy up the table. In fact, kids love setting the table — it’s a fun activity they can do while you’re cooking.

Second, talk about food–before, during, and after the meal! The French love to talk about food. So discuss this menu with your kids in advance. Older ones can help cook, and why not get the younger ones to draw one of the dishes? Talking about food helps kids familiarize themselves with dishes, and get over their reluctance to taste new things.

Bon Appétit!

 

Recipe of the week: Cherry Clafoutis (Sweet Cherry Soufflé)

After a bit of a hiatus, I’ll be blogging with weekly favourite recipes this summer. Look out for book give-aways and fun competitions as well!

Clafoutis (Sweet Cherry Soufflé)

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 30 to 40 minutes
Servings: 6 generous pieces

Clafoutis is a version of the French flan that is traditionally made with cherries (or other moist fruit such as plums, prunes, raspberries, or blackberries), enveloped by a simple cake batter. The fruit is polka- dotted in the cake, giving it a playful look that children love. Even the name is fun to say: kla-foo-TEE. Traditionally, this dish is cooked with the pits left inside the cherries (purists believe that this intensifies the flavor of the dish). I pit the cherries (or, when I’m in a rush, use small plums instead, which are easier to pit).

Our source for the cherries is an old tree at Philippe’s aunt’s house. Tante Odette’s tree is the most productive I’ve ever encountered; the branches, weighed down with cherries, hang down almost to the ground. In late June and early July, the extended family is mobilized for cherry picking, cherry jam making, and (of course) cherry eating. Clafoutis is my daughters’ favorite recipe from this time of year.

2 cups pitted cherries or plums (or other moist fruit)
1/3 cup granulated sugar

1⁄2 cup flour

Pinch of salt
3 eggs
11⁄4 cups milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar (or brown sugar—I like muscovado)

1. Place the fruit in a bowl with half the granulated sugar, stir well, and set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 ̊F. Grease a 9-inch baking dish.

3. In a large bowl, sift the flour with the salt and remaining sugar. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and milk to combine. Add the va- nilla. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and combine well. Spread the fruit evenly in the baking dish and pour the batter on top. The cherries may float to the surface now (or later, during baking).

4. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is firm and golden brown. Cool, then sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Serve immediately (but make sure the inside isn’t too hot for kids’ tender tongues!).

Note: Julia Child recommends baking this twice (briefly baking a thin layer in the bottom of the dish, then adding the fruit topped with the remaining batter and baking until done). But the French parents I know use this “express” method, with wonderful results!

Tip: Serve the clafoutis in the baking dish, as it is quite “wobbly” and won’t transfer well. Fresh out of the oven, the cake is puffed up and golden. It will settle and sag a little bit, but that’s exactly what it is supposed to do.

Tomates Farcies (Savory Stuffed Tomatoes)

This is one of our family’s favourite recipes (and a sneak preview from my new book!).

It’s a French kids’ classic, and actually sums up a lot about the French approach to kids’ food: elegant yet edible, beautifully presented, easy and quick to make. Tomates farcies (stuffed tomatoes) are both filling and fun. The tomatoes are hollowed out and stuffed (in this case, with a savory ground beef mixture), and then baked to perfection. The farce peeks out of the tomatoes in acoquettish sort of way, and children love lifting up the tomato “hats” to see what lies underneath. Served with something that can absorb the delicious juices (rice and couscous are our favorites), this is a complete and easy tasty meal.

Tomates Farcies

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 20 minutes (but make sure to preheat that oven!)
Servings: 4 small adult (or older child) servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1/2 pound ground beef
4 large tomatoes
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Optional: 1 minced red or yellow pepper, 2 teaspoons dried parsley and/or oregano, salt, pepper

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 375 ̊F (200 degrees C).

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, quickly add the ground beef (to “seize” the meat), stir vigorously for 1 minute, and lower the heat to medium-low. Simmer the meat until thoroughly cooked, about 6 to 8 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes: slice off the tops and set them aside, then hollow out the insides of the tomatoes with a small spoon, removing the flesh and pulp to a bowl. (The result will look like little bowls.) Turn the tomatoes upside down on a plate to allow the juices to drain. Chop the tomato insides and add them to the simmering beef mixture. (Optional: add diced red or yellow pepper along with the tomatoes.)

4. Combine the breadcrumbs, herbs, and spices in a mixing bowl. (I use a little parsley and oregano, salt and pepper, but my sister-in- law uses paprika. Get creative!)

5. Add the breadcrumb mixture to the meat in the skillet and stir thoroughly. Spoon the resulting mixture (the “farce”) into the tomato “bowls.” Sprinkle with Parmesan. Put the tops back on the tomatoes like little “hats.”

6. Place the tomatoes in a baking dish, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they are deliciously melt-in-your-month (fondant). Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Bon Appétit!

A French twist on Thanksgiving leftovers: Savory Sweet Potato Souffle

The feast is over, family and friends have come and gone, and you’re left with a smorgasbord of leftovers. What to do? If you’re looking for a change from turkey soup and turkey sandwiches, here’s a French twist on an American favorite. Note that the recipe is savory rather than sweet…a nice twist on an old favourite.

Savory Sweet Potato Souffle

Preparation: 20 minutes

Cooking: 30 minutes

Serves: 6 to 8

1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
1 cup sweet potato puree
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup shredded cheese (Gruyere or cheddar)
3 eggs, separated
4 tablespoons softened butter
3 tablespoons Parmesan

Preheat oven to 375F.

Brush the inside of a large soufflé or deep casserole dish with 2 tablespoons of softened butter. Sprinkle the buttered surface evenly with Parmesan cheese and set aside the dish.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onions in the remaining butter until they turn translucent. Add flour and salt, and stir constantly for 1 minute. Add the milk, still stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture thickens. Add the sweet potato puree, oregano, and pepper and stir well. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. Set aside to cool.

In the meantime, beat egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form (adding a pinch of salt helps).

Stir egg yolk mixture into cooled hot sweet potatoes, and mix well.

Now add one-third of the egg whites into the sweet potatoes, and gently stir. Then, fold the remaining egg whites into the mixture.

Spoon into the prepared dish and bake for 30 minutes, until the sweet potato soufflé is puffed up and cooked through.

The soufflé will fall slightly as it cools, but this is normal! Allow to cool slightly, for better results when cutting. Serve warm, and enjoy.

Recipe of the Week: French White Bean Soup

‘White Beans’ are one of the most popular beans eaten in France. And one of the most popular ways to eat them is as a soup.

In France, they come in two varieties: coco variety is used in soups and the traditional cassoulet stew, and the longer michelet variety is more frequently eaten fresh. For this recipe, you can substitute cannellinni, great northern, or navy beans; but if you can find the rich, creamy French white cocos, this soup will be even more delicious.

Spread beans in a single layer on a large sheet tray; pick through to remove and discard any small stones or debris and then rinse well.

2 cups of white beans (cannellini, navy or great northern)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled (whole)
2 dried bay leaves
6 cups of water
4 tablespoons crème fraîche (or substitute sour cream)
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
Optional: 2 strips of pancetta bacon, finely diced, for topping

Soak the beans using one of these two methods:
Traditional soaking method: In a bowl, cover beans with 4 inches of cold water, cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 8 hours.

Quick soaking method: In a large pot, cover beans with 3 inches of cold water, then bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, then remove pot from heat, and allow to sit, covered, for 1 hour.

Drain soaked beans and transfer to a large pot (discarding the cooking water).

Add 6 cups of cold water, onions, and garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add bay leaves, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender (about 1 hour). Skim off and discard any foam on the surface.

When beans are tender, discard bay leaves, add the crème fraîche, and mix (I use a hand blender). Depending on how thick you like your soup, you may want to add more water.

Ladle into bowls, and sprinkle 1/2 tsp of lemon juice on the top of the soup. Optional: sprinkle with pancetta bacon just before serving.

Note: the French often add other things to the mix, like stalks of parsley (leaves removed!), celery sticks, or shallots. These can be added with the bay leaves, and removed at the same time. They add a subtle, wonderful flavor to this soup.

Bon Appétit!